While providing color commentary for Monday Night Football last night, Jon Gruden called the performance of Bears quarterback Josh McCown “more than impressive.” That would be an understatement. You could probably go as far as calling McCown’s play weirdly good.
Since Jay Cutler went down with a groin injury against the Redskins on October 20, McCown has been spectacular. After entering the game against Washington, he passed for 204 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a passer rating of 119.6. Then, with a full week plus a bye to prepare, McCown got the start against Green Bay and led Chicago to an improbable victory over their arch rival. McCown threw for 272 yards, two scores, and once again zero picks. This admirable performance by any career backup would be noteworthy, but considering where McCown came from it makes this story even wackier.
McCown was working as a high school football assistant coach in 2011 and 2012, only to twice be called upon by the Bears when they needed a second stringer. McCown has answered the bell.
Many ingredients went into the recipe that led to last night’s gigantic performance from McCown. Packers All-Pro signal-caller Aaron Rodgers exiting the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury certainly helped Chicago. Rodgers has been a Bears killer, posting a 9-2 lifetime mark against them entering play. So, to think things may have gone extremely different if Rodgers did not go down is certainly a valid argument.
The Packers are not at full strength on defense. Star linebacker Clay Matthews spent another week in street clothes. Another element that greatly helped the Bears.
But the biggest X-factor in all of this is indisputable. Bears coach Marc Trestman did not eat the playbook. Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer ran their high scoring offense as if Cutler were in there. It worked. Chicago didn’t miss a beat. McCown spread the ball around to his big athletic receivers and his team came out on top.
Trestman’s approach makes a lot of sense. If your backup is in, why not try to keep things as normal as possible for your other offensive players? If it works, it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But at the very least, you are not setting your team up for failure. You are giving them a chance to win just as if your starter were in there. When a coach scraps plays, generally a vanilla offense emerges and opposing defenses pin their ears back and feast. Your offense is stuffed and that ineptness tires out your defense in the process. Trestman didn’t fall for this old approach. He went for it. It paid off.
In recent years, whenever the Bears were forced to start quarterbacks like Jason Campbell, Caleb Hanie, Todd Collins, Craig Krenzel, or Jonathan Quinn a good portion of the game plan disappeared. Whether the offensive coordinator was Ron Turner, Mike Martz, or Mike Tice, the Bears have notoriously changed their complete identity when a second or third stringer was forced into action.
Instead of giving in and dialing up predictable, safe plays, Marc Trestman allowed Kromer and company to go about business as usual. That refreshing approach, along with a gutsy fourth down call, and McCown’s uncanny faith and intelligence helped the double-digit underdog Bears grab a big road victory, creating a three-way tie atop the division.
Trestman’s confidence in his system should keep the Bears competitive no matter what happens on the injury front. If the team can get healthy and somehow shore up a so-far weak defense, bigger things may even be on tap.